Draft Strategy

4 Contract Year Running Backs to Target in 2018

Contract Year Fantasy RB’s

Have you ever heard of the NFL contract phenomenon? The idea that a player is going to be motivated to have a monster statistical season because it is the last year of his contract and he wants to land a career-defining new contract in free agency. The theory is not the end all be all. There is no statistical proof that a player’s production increases in a contract year despite money being considered one of life’s great motivators.

How will this information benefit you? In fantasy football simply having an awareness of a player’s status is a critical part of building a roster especially in dynasty or keeper formats, but can also help you in redraft if you are weighing the pros and cons of similarly ranked players. An upcoming free agent joining a new team can have a significant impact on his future value. This is why this information matters before and after your fantasy draft.

This article will focus on four running backs who are in great offensive situations who should be on your radar and they look to better position themselves for the 2019 NFL Free Agency period. Target them in your leagues, or put them in the back of your mind for in-season daily fantasy lineup construction. If you’re already a regular DFS player, you should seriously consider looking into their new sportsbook, check out this review of the sportsbook Fanduel for the upcoming NFL season.

Jay Ajayi

Running Back | Eagles 

Ajayi was much more effective the last seven games of the 2017 season with the Eagles than the Dolphins. He had higher rushing fantasy points over expectation, receiving fantasy points over expectation, and fantasy points per game averaging only 11.4 touches per game while learning a new offensive playbook.

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Ajayi enters the 2018 season as the starting RBs of one of the top NFL offenses. LeGarrette Blount signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency which leaves veteran Darren Sproles and second-year player Corey Clement as his only competition for touches. Ajayi looks to land a career-defining contract after concerns over the health of his knee and heavy workload in college negatively impacted his draft stock back in 2015.

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The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and leaned heavily on traps last season averaging an extraordinary 6.87 yards on these runs according to Pro Football Focus. Head coach Doug Pederson’s offense complements Ajayi which blends the West Coast with college-style spread-offense concepts. So what is my point?

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Ajayi has had a full offseason with the Eagles organization and with a workload, on the upward trend an RB1 finish is in the realm of possibilities behind the team’s offensive line.


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Tevin Coleman

Running Back | Falcons

The Falcons transition from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian had a significant impact on the fantasy production of Coleman and Devonta Freeman

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Sarkisian has not coached in the NFL since 2005 and it showed. The Falcons offense regressed from the previous season in numerous statistical categories. The addition of new quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp and RB coach Bernie Parmalee will help this offense dramatically behind the scenes in 2018. Coleman has operated as the Falcons change of pace option since entering the league averaging 10.5 touches per game.

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Coleman has a positive career rushing and receiving fantasy points over expectation since entering the NFL in 2015.

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The five-year, $41 million contract extension the Falcons front office provided Freeman suggest they will move on from Coleman after this season. It will be challenging for the team’s General Manager Thomas Dimitroff to keep both players beyond the 2018 season. Coleman has proven himself as one of the top committee backs in the league. This upcoming season will be his audition for other teams. D. Orlando Ledbetter, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, also reported that the team plans to leverage Coleman more this season as a receiver out of the backfield after only 27 catches in 2017. He averaged 11.1 yards per reception.

Coleman will run behind one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. The level of play of the Falcons offensive tackle and center last season was phenomenal. The team’s OL leaned heavily on the outside zone plays. The Falcons averaging 4.45 on these runs which ranked eighth in the NFL.

Freeman’s has been very durable and productive statistically over the last three seasons. This will result in Coleman’s offensive role unlikely changing.

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Coleman is worth drafting at his current ADP as a dependable RB3 or Flex option. He can provide you with RB1 upside if Freeman were to miss extended time.

C.J. Anderson

Running Back | Panthers

Anderson ended up in a great situation with the Panthers considering the situation after being released by the Broncos back in April. He will replace Jonathan Stewart who was not resigned by the Panthers in free agency.

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The expectation is that Anderson handles all of Stewart workload. Anderson has averaged 4.4 rushing yards per carry in his career with positive rushing fantasy points over expectation. Last season was his first with 1,000 or more rushing yards. McCaffrey will continue to operate primarily as a receiver out of the backfield and dominate the targets. New Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner has a history of success leveraging multiple backs.

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One risk to Anderson’s fantasy outlook is quarterback Cam Newton’s rushing ability. He has averaged 7.6 rushing attempts, 39.6 rushing yards, and 0.5 touchdowns per game since 2011.

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Anderson can be viewed as an RB3 or flex with upside and is a value at his current ADP.

Doug Martin

Oakland Raiders | Raiders

It is rare to find an RB at Martin’s current ADP that will have a legitimate opportunity to compete for the starting job in Oakland.

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Martin’s statistical production has been up and down like the S&P 500, but he was very productive during the 2012 and 2015 seasons. He averaged 19.6 fantasy points per game in PPR formats back in 2012 and 15.1 in 2015. Martin will have an opportunity to run behind a much better OL than he had in Tampa Bay.

Martin could push 32-year old RB Marshawn Lynch for touches in the Raiders regime under new head coach Jon Gruden. This will be a training camp battle worth monitoring. Martin is someone to take a flier on late in fantasy drafts this summer as he looks to continue his playing career.

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Do you agree or disagree? What did you find most useful? Please leave a comment below or better yet reach out via Twitter @EricNMoody.


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